Sunwing and Signature Vacations will begin direct flights from Montreal to Aruba in December, offering easy access to this upscale destination

The Dutch island of Aruba has the highest rate of repeat visitors amongst all Caribbean islands. The arid climate, constant sunshine, and warm temperatures provide the main ingredients for a memorable vacation. Legendary hospitality, a fine selection of resorts, outstanding cuisine, and varied sports and cultural activities combine to satisfy the high expectations of a sophisticated tourism clientele.

I visited Aruba in mid-August and I’d like to introduce this lovely holiday destination to our readers. Our group visited the Arikok National Park, went snorkeling from a catamaran sailboat, tried kite-surfing, visited the Aloe Museum and Factory, played beach tennis, visited several resorts and still had time to enjoy the remarkable beaches and crystal-clear waters of Caribbean Sea. Aruba is known for its fine cuisine, and we sampled several excellent restaurants.

Aruba is an upscale holiday destination, and the folks at Sunwing and Signature Vacations are offering a good variety of highly rated resorts, from the all-inclusive and palatial 5 star Riu Palace to smaller properties that encourage guests to try the many fine local restaurants. The people at Aruba Tourism hope that Sunwing and Signature will soon offer year ‘round service to their “One Happy Island” in the southern Caribbean.

Palm Beach is the location for most large resort hotels like Hyatt, Marriott, Riu and soon, a new Ritz Carlton

Situated just 16 degrees north of the Equator and 17 miles from the Venezuelan coastline; Aruba is outside the path of Caribbean hurricanes and tropical storms, making it an ideal holiday destination at any time of the year. Temperature varies between 81 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain is a non-issue; at just 18” – 20” per year.

While the main attraction may be the lovely beaches and a holiday-friendly climate, visitors can also select from a variety of activities that include: golf, sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving, kite surfing, beach tennis and sightseeing in the Arikok National Park. Two main shopping destinations offer shopping for everyone; from the evening open air market in the Palm Beach hotel area; to high-end stores such as Coach, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Cartier and Louis Vuitton conveniently located in the Renaissance Mall of Aruba’s capitol, Oranjestad.

Tourism has evolved over the past fifty years to become the largest industry in Aruba. It is part of the Dutch island grouping of Curacao and Bonaire (known as the ABC Dutch islands). The population is made up of 96 nationalities who manage to live in harmony. So much so that the Tourism Board has adopted the island’s nickname as their moniker – One Happy Island.

Many upscale boutiques are located in the Royal Plaza Mall in Oranjestad

It’s Hot! Hot! Hot! in Aruba during Carnival – which takes place for an extended period this coming winter from January through March. However, every Thursday evening the town of St. Nicolas hosts a Carnubbian Festival that offers a fine taste of Carnival. This grass-roots weekly event has become popular with residents and tourists, with bus tours organized from the main resort areas. Local folks prepare slow-cooked ribs, sausage, shrimp, a variety of fish. Organizers set up a stage and local folk dance troupes wearing brilliantly-coloured costumes put on a terrific show. People in the audience are encouraged to get into the spirit of the evening by wearing carnival masks. At the end of the performances – including some hilarious audience-participation orchestrated by the MC, dancers in fantastic Carnival costumes come onto the stage and spread out through the audience, before leading everyone on an impromptu parade down the main street. A brass band joins the procession, with the drummers providing the dancing beat for even the most rhythmically challenged! Smiles all around with visitors and locals joining in the fun. A big part of the evening’s charm lies in the fact that this event is locally organized. I can heartily recommend the Carnubbian Festival for everyone, and especially for families.

We set out directly from our hotel the next morning with Giovanni from De Palm Jeep Tours for a tour of Arikok National Park. It was during our visit to the park that you fully appreciate the Aruba’s dessert terrain, with cacti the predominant vegetation. The views of the blue/green ocean crashing into the rugged North shore coastline are spectacular. We clambered down the pathway leading to a natural ocean pool that is protected from the pounding surf by a natural rock formation. Being considered for addition to the list of the world’s Natural Wonders, swimming in the pool is a unique, very popular and memorable experience.

We continued on to visit the Fountein Caves that were once underwater caverns below the ocean’s high water mark. As the ocean water receded, the caves provided shelter for natives, who did not venture far into the caves. However, their thousand year-old paintings can still be seen on the cave ceilings.

We then continued on to crescent-shaped Baby Beach (named for its shallow and calm waters) – ideally suited for young children. After a hearty lunch at Big Mama’s (where the ‘air-conditioning’ is provided by gentle ocean breezes), we changed into our bathing suits and enjoyed a lazy swim.

Beach tennis is a popular sport

Later that afternoon we visited the Aloe Museum and Factory. The Aloe plant thrives in arid conditions, and it was introduced to Aruba in the 1840s. The plant’s sap was used as an active ingredient in the production of laxatives, and the labour-intensive Aloe industry became Aruba’s primary business. Aloe was so important to the Aruban economy that an Aloe plant is included in the island’s Coat-of-Arms. This domination ended in 1949 when the natural extract was replaced with chemical ingredients. However, the Aloe plant’s naturally occurring gel was discovered to have healing properties for skin lesions and subsequently for cosmetic applications. Today, the Aloe plant is FDA approved and is used in a variety of medical and cosmetic applications. The tour is informative and concludes at the company store where visitors can purchase these hugely popular Aloe skin treatments. ( There are Aruba Aloe store locations in Palm Beach, Eagle Beach and the Cruise Ship Terminal. Purchases can also be made via the website for delivery in Canada and the US.

The next morning we visited MooMba Beach for Beach Tennis, lunch and a refreshing swim after working up a good sweat playing beach tennis. Played with a modified racket, tennis balls and a kind of volleyball net; the idea is to keep the ball in the air – no bounces in the sand. Scoring is the same as in tennis; and after a few simple instructions – we had a lot of fun in our inter-group match. If you’re travelling with teenagers – they’d have a ball with this.

Lunch at MooMba Beach is a casual affair beneath the thatched roof and no walls to impede your view of the beach and azure water. From burgers, to pizza, salads and several fresh fish dishes; lunch was reasonably priced and the setting idyllic. On Sunday nights MooMba Beach is the place to be for locals and tourists to mingle, dance and enjoy the warm Caribbean breezes.

Our group then moved on to an afternoon of snorkeling from one of the Red Sail catamarans that set out from their pier adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Palm Beach. Red Sail offers a variety of water sport activities that also include scuba diving and sunset and dinner sailings. The company also has locations at the Renaissance and Marriott Resorts. Our excursion included two sites, one in relatively shallow water with many species of brightly coloured fish. The second is a dramatic site in much deeper water where the 400 foot Antilla was scuttled by her German crew at the outbreak of WWII. This is the largest wreck in The Caribbean and it is impressive – perhaps awesome. The main mast lies just below the surface, and you can swim the length of the ship in blue water, moving over the wreck until coming to the ship’s bow. While there was no loss of life in the sinking of Antilla – there is an eerie quality to swimming above the Antilla’s watery grave. There was a real buzz of excitement on board after this swim!

The calm waters of Natural Pool in the Arikok National Park

The next morning found our intrepid group a little further down the beach at Fisherman’s Huts Beach and Armando’s Kite Shack, where we took up the challenge to try kite-surfing. Our lesson included dry land training to get accustomed to controlling the kite so that once on the water (in my case ‘in’ the water), you’ll be able to steer the kite to gain maximum wind power and go skimming across the surface. We gained a whole new respect for the kite-surfers that you see launching 10 feet and more up into the air, turning and landing on the water in what appears to be a continuous motion. It was great fun and again – a terrific activity for teenagers.

We didn’t visit any golf courses on this trip – but there are several to choose from, including the championship Tierra del Sol, designed by Robert Trent Jones; the nine-hole Links at Divi Aruba and The Aruba Gold Club located in St. Nicolas.

Aruba is a wonderful vacation destination for people seeking a more upscale Caribbean holiday, whether it be an all-inclusive resort or a European plan that will free you up to try the island’s many fine restaurants. The arid and hurricane-free climate ensures fine weather for your holiday at any time of the year. Aruba casinos have been a popular destination for many years, and most large hotels like the Hyatt Regency have on-site casinos. Added to the fabulous beaches, warm water, and fine weather; it’s the welcoming nature of the local citizens that make a vacation in Aruba a “holiday-to-remember” and why Aruba enjoys the highest rate of repeat visitors in the Caribbean. Bon Voyage!


Sunwing and Signature Vacations are offering a variety of all-inclusive and European plan packages to a wide selection of resorts beginning in December.
American Airlines offers daily service from Montreal connecting through Miami, with a mid-afternoon arrival.